1 Stuart, John McDouall

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Stuart, John McDouall


Was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, on 7 September 1815, the son of William Stuart, a captain in the army. He arrived in South Australia in 1838 where he entered the government survey department. In 1844 he joined the expedition to the centre of Australia led by Captain Charles Sturt (q.v.) as. draftsman and gained invaluable experience. Little is known of his life during the next 14 years, but on 14 May 1858 Stuart with one companion and six horses made an expedition to west of the Torrens Basin, a northerly course being taken until 24 June. He then proceeded north-westerly until 11 July when a turn was made to the south-west, and on 16 July Stuart turned back parallel with his original course. A fair amount of good land was discovered, but on taking a westerly course again Stuart found himself at Mount Finke on 8 August in "fearful country". Going almost due south, he passed through a "dreary dreadful dismal desert of heavy sand hills and spinifex". When Streaky Bay was reached on 21 August the explorers had been without food for three days. On the following day they arrived at a station, and both Stuart and his companion Forster became very ill from the effects of their previous starvation. An enforced stay of nine days was made and then an easterly course was taken until a station near Mount Arden was reached north-east of Port Augusta. Stuart had travelled considerably over a thousand miles. This expedition had been financed by William Finke, who with James Chambers jointly provided the means for Stuart to go north again. His diary does not give the strength of his party but three men are mentioned, Miller, Hergott and Campbell, as being with him. Near Mount Hamilton Stuart turned more to the north than in 1858. He reached near latitude 27 and then finding that his horses' shoes were all fast wearing out, decided to return and arrived at Glen's station near Termination Hill on 3 July 1859. Stuart's third expedition set out on 4 November 1859 and reached Lake Eyre two days later. Quite early in this journey Stuart had great trouble with his eyes, on 12 November he mentions in his diary that he is "almost blind". About the end of December a week was spent at Freeling Springs, and some prospecting for gold was done without result although some of the quartz looked promising. On 6 January 1860 as provisions were running short he decided to return to Chambers Creek. Of Kekwick one of the men with him Stuart said that he was "everything I could wish a man to be". But he had great trouble with two other men who wished to return to Adelaide.

On 2 March 1860 Stuart left Chamber's Creek on his fourth journey. He had Kekwick and one other man with him and 13 horses. By 13 April he had reached the McDonell Range and on 22 April found that he was camped in the centre of Australia. A peak about two and a half miles to the north-east was given the name of Central Mount Sturt, afterwards called Central Mount Stuart, and on the following day he ascended it and planted the British flag there. From there Stuart travelled about 150 miles to the north-west, but had to retrace his steps as he was suffering much from scurvy. The journey north was then continued through the Murchison and McDonell ranges. On 26 June the party was attacked by aborigines; Stuart reluctantly had to fire on them, and next day finding his rations getting very low decided to return. Many privations were endured and Kekwick became very ill, but they succeeded in reaching Hamilton Springs on 26 August. After a few days' rest Stuart arrived at Adelaide in October 1860. He had reached almost to the 18th degree of south latitude and the South Australian parliament now voted 2500 for the equipmerit of a larger and better organized expedition. It left on 29 November, Stuart having William Kekwick as his second in command and 10 other men. When they left Chambers Creek on 1 January 1861 the party consisted of 12 men and 49 horses. Marchant Springs on the Finke was reached on 22 February, Hamilton Springs on 24 March, and Attack Creek near the farthest point of the previous journey, on 25 April. On 4 May they came to Sturt's Plain and during the next few weeks tried vainly to find a good track to the north. In places the scrub was so dense it was almost impenetrable. On 4 July Stuart was still hoping to reach the Victoria, but on 12 July found himself forced to return as the men were showing the effects of short rations. They crossed the Centre on 30 July, Chambers Creek on 7 September, and Adelaide was reached on 23 September 1861.

In spite of the ill-success of his efforts Stuart was still confident that he could cross the continent. A fresh expedition was arranged which left Adelaide on 21 October 1861. Stuart, however, was knocked down by a rearing horse and was unable to proceed for some weeks. He again had William Kekwick as second officer and 10 others, but one man had to be discarded early in the journey and another deserted. Marchant Springs was reached on 15 February, the Centre was passed on 12 March and Attack Creek on 28 March. They came to Sturt Plains on 15 April and Daly Waters on 28 May, which was made the base for about a fortnight. Stuart had thought of making for the Gulf of Carpentaria but found the country against him. Proceeding north he came to the Roper River on 26 June. A course north-west was then set. Latitude 14 degrees was crossed on 8 July and they reached the Adelaide River two days later. From here onwards the country was good and there was no lack of water. On 24 July the Indian Ocean in Van Diemen Gulf was sighted to the great joy of the party.

On 26 July Stuart began the return journey. His horses were in poor condition and by 10 August he had been obliged to abandon some of them. On 22 August Stuart was so weak that he began to doubt whether he could reach Adelaide, and his eyesight was so bad that he was unable to take observations. Attack Creek was crossed on 14 September. On 28 October Stuart tells us in his journal he was reduced to a "perfect skeleton" and was sometimes so ill that he had to be carried on a stretcher. They arrived at Mr Jarvis's station at Mount Margaret on 26 November, and after a few days' rest Stuart pushed on with three of his party leaving the remainder under the charge of Kekwick to continue the journey when the horses had sufficiently recovered. On 9 December 1862 Stuart arrived at Mount Stuart station and Adelaide on 18 December. In his report Stuart especially commended Messrs Kekwick and Thring for the good work they had done throughout the long and trying journey. The success of the expedition was rewarded by a grant of 3500 of which Stuart received 2000. He was granted the lease, rent free, of a large area in the north, and was also awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society. J. W. Waterhouse, who had accompanied the expedition as naturalist, succeeded in bringing back a collection of birds, shells and plants, though at one stage it was feared that everything would have to be abandoned except food. Stuart never recovered from the effects of the privations endured on his journeys. Writing to Sturt in June 1863 he mentions that his constitution is broken, and asks Sturt for his interest for a further reward, but Sturt was unable to do anything. In April 1864 he proceeded to England and died in London on 5 June 1866. There is a statue to his memory in Victoria-square, Adelaide. Explorations in Australia. The Journals of John McDouall Stuart, edited by W. Hardman, was published in 1864.

Stuart was a great explorer of indomitable courage who never lost a man in any of his expeditions. He had not Sturt's way with the aborigines, more than once he came in conflict with them, and on some of his expeditions he was ill-equipped and without scientific instruments. But his journey across Australia and back in 1861 and 1862 was of great value in opening up the country, and remains one of the epics of Australian exploration.


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